By: 7 May 2014


Recent UK Government investments have been announced for the provision of PhD student training and development in the regenerative medicine sector. From autumn 2014, a total of 150 graduates in five annual cohorts will begin four-year PhD programmes at three Centres for Doctoral Training in regenerative medicine and tissue engineering. Sponsorship of the three centres, based at Loughborough University (partnering with The University of Nottingham and Keele University), The University of Leeds and The University of Manchester, has been provided by UK research councils – the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Medical Research Council (MRC).

More than 100 PhD students have begun or completed their studies at the previous EPSRC-funded Centres for Doctoral Training based at Loughborough University (again partnering with The University of Nottingham and Keele University) and at The University of Leeds (collaborating with The University of Sheffield and The University of York). At least 20 other UK universities are training PhD students in the scientific skills required to work in the field of regenerative medicine. A very conservative estimate would suggest at least 500 scientists and engineers graduating with a regenerative medicine themed PhD between 2012 and 2022. It is clear that 500+ new relevant roles cannot be created at lecturer level and upwards in academic institutions, and highly competitive fellowship programmes, such as those provided by the learned societies and the UK research councils, will be equally oversubscribed.

So we ask the question, what other roles are available in the regenerative medicine sector?

When beginning my role as Head of Engagement at the EPSRC-funded Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Regenerative Medicine in early 2013, it became very clear to me that there was a limited awareness among PhD students of the possibilities that were available to them within the sector. Much of this was likely due to the developing nature of the sector, however the presence of many SME start-up and spin-out companies relatively unknown to PhD graduates and particularly the breadth of requirements across the regenerative medicine sector supply chain provided additional challenges. Our own Innovative Manufacturing Centre undertakes translational research in the ‘bench to bedside’ processes underpinning the regenerative medicine sector – ranging from scale-up of cell culture processes to (cryo)preservation of cell therapies to 3D-printing of personalised scaffolds. The regenerative medicine sector features a variety of key stakeholders, each providing their own range of careers. Stakeholders include academic research organisations, hospitals and clinical trials units, regulatory agencies, manufacturing organisations, R&D companies, policy organisations (for example, the UK’s Office for Life Sciences), consumables/equipment companies and courier companies.

Working with Regener8, an organisation facilitating the translation of university and industry research in regenerative medicine into commercial products and clinical benefits, I designed a careers awareness event that would bring together mentors from commercial, clinical and academic organisations to provide early career researchers with an opportunity to find out more about different roles in the sector. Each of the seven speakers presented on a different role type: regulatory, R&D business development, laboratory management, knowledge exchange from an academic setting, consultancy, academic research and strategic management in a clinical setting. All early career researchers attending the event were mentored by commercial, clinical and academic experts using a CV clinic format, and discussion sessions were held on the subjects of applying for personal fellowships, working with recruitment agents to secure a role and creating and promoting their own brand, whether through a CV or through social media outlets such as LinkedIn.


The role of regulatory affairs is a nice example to use here, as this speaker discussed his path from studying a PhD at a university that a number of attendees attended to his current role at the Cell Therapy Catapult. Dr Patrick Ginty undertook a PhD in the tissue engineering group of Prof Kevin Shakesheff at The University of Nottingham. As a University of Nottingham Research Fellow, Patrick developed new methods for the processing of polymers and live cells into viable scaffolds for applications in orthopaedic tissue engineering, and continued his work on orthopaedic tissue repair scaffolds at the spin-out company, RegenTec. Patrick moved to Loughborough University to work on a number of projects key to the development of the regenerative medicine sector – remedi, an EPSRC Innovative Manufacturing Grand Challenge, and the VALUE project, investigating the sector’s uncertainties (particularly financial), funded by the UK’s Technology Strategy Board.

Patrick moved to the Cell Therapy Catapult last year as Regulatory Affairs Manager, where he provides regulatory support and advice to developers of cell and gene therapy products. Patrick discussed his professional development activities, particularly his achievement of regulatory affairs certification from the Regulatory Affairs Professionals Society.

Patrick’s current employer, the Cell Therapy Catapult based near London Bridge, has grown from a large UK Government investment aimed at facilitating the growth of the UK cell therapy industry so that it becomes a global leader in the development, delivery and commercialisation of cell therapy. The Catapult has recruited gradually over the past year and a half to its current level of over 60 employees across the Business Development, Process Development and Clinical Operations and Regulatory Affairs teams.

A more recent announcement by the UK Government has interested current PhD students specialising in regenerative medicine manufacturing the creation of a £55million UK Cell Therapy Manufacturing Centre that will be managed by the Catapult. The Centre, which is expected to open in 2016/17, will provide large-scale manufacturing facilities aimed at helping the country to retain manufacturing activity (rather than it moving to other countries with available facilities), attract inward investment to the UK and boost exports. The Centre, the companies making use of the Centre’s facilities and the Catapult itself are very likely to be some of the larger employers in the sector for the next few years.

To support PhD students and early career postdoc researchers, I keep my eyes and ears open for relevant roles in the regenerative medicine sector and highlight these to the early career audience. It is interesting to see a recent growth in relevant roles becoming available at some of the larger companies in the sector, including those who have only recently joined the sector from the more established pharmaceuticals industry. Support for the careers event from so many commercial organisations only further highlights the importance of recruiting the very best from the next cohorts of PhD students studying within the sector.

While a US-based online jobs board specialising in regenerative medicine exists, there are few UK-based options available, and this likely adds to the lack of awareness that early career researchers have. The BioIndustry Association circulates a useful UK-based vacancies list, however this is broad across the biotech industries. I am a regular social media user and often see vacancies in academic organisations being circulated, but it is rare to see a regenerative medicine industry-based role tweeted or featured on a LinkedIn post. Perhaps, here, I have identified a gap in the market for a recruitment agency!

A keen interest of mine is supporting early career researchers in the development of their professional skills set, helping to develop their CV to set them apart from other candidates. The Centre for Doctoral Training in Regenerative Medicine at the universities of Loughborough, Nottingham and Keele facilitates the development of skills beyond the laboratory – for example, the understanding of the business model process for a new company, the calculation of cost of goods considerations for new products, the development of communication skills through a public and schools engagement programme and a greater awareness of the sector as a whole through regular engagement with commercial organisations in the field.

Personalisation of this four-year programme is achieved through selection of a thesis topic based on each student’s interests and career aspirations. I believe that engaging students with the variety of possible careers early in their programme is vital to give them time to identify and develop the skills required to secure the career of their choice upon graduation with their PhD.

While this first UK event provided early career researchers with an avenue for the discovery of alternative regenerative medicine career paths, evaluation of the event has provided confirmation of a need for regular careers awareness events to minimise the potential leakage of highly skilled researchers from the sector. Future events need to consider a wider variety of role types including medical writer, patent attorney, consultancy, scientific policy, product safety, varying roles in the NHS and opportunities for international working. Highlighting the activities that each mentor undertakes in a ‘day in their life’ was a clear favourite with attendees of this first event. I’m delighted to say that 93% of attendees would attend another event of this type with different speakers and the same percentage would recommend a future careers event of this type to a colleague, further confirming the demand for this style of awareness-raising activity.

About the EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Regenerative Medicine
The EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Regenerative Medicine is a collaboration between Loughborough, Keele and Nottingham universities. It focuses on developing new technology platforms for manufacture of regenerative medicines – testing and implementing ideas in clinical and industrial settings while informing business models, policy and public debate.